Arlington’s history is complex, its identity evolving over more than 150 years. It has been a frontier outpost, an agricultural center, a site of Indian battles and a mecca for horse racing and gambling. It once was famed for its mineral waters, has long been a college town (it has three colleges), and it hosts major industrial entities such as the Arlington General Motors Assembly Plant. Today it is famed for Major League Baseball and amusement attractions that feature giant roller coasters, but it also has a high tech component that includes nanotechnology research, computer chip manufacturing and a technology incubator designed to introduce leading edge university research into the world of commerce.
Named in honor of Robert E. Lee’s hometown in Virginia, Arlington rests squarely on the divide of two distinct geological strata, a vast “grand prairie” called the Eagle Ford, and an oaks-dominated woodland of gently rolling hills called the Eastern Cross Timbers. Its heritage is a colorful one, beginning with Native Americans and continuing through the explorations of the first Europeans and the earliest days of the Texas Republic. No less than six national flags have flown here.
The first non-Indian settlement here dates to the 1840s. Indeed, Arlington began as the failed Bird’s Fort, evolving into the site of a Texas Ranger post (Johnson Station) authorized by Republic President Sam Houston to serve as a dividing line between settlers and a collection of Indian tribes driven to the area by American westward expansion.
The Republic of Texas signed its first ever Indian peace treaty here in 1843 at Bird’s Fort with nine tribes including Cherokee, Delaware, Biloxi, Caddo, Keechie and Waco representatives. Caddo tribes dominated early Indian settlements and they were the first residents of the area, camping in such an abundance of settlements that one local waterway, Village Creek, was named for their presence. Early Caddos practiced agriculture near the waterway, their long-time presence established by numerous archaeological digs. Caddo settlements were visited by the first European explorers to the area, including Cabeza de Vaca in 1535 and La Salle in 1687, and by Texas Rangers, who defeated them in the Battle of Village Creek in 1841. These lands became part of the vast plantation holdings of Col. Middleton Tate Johnson, who arrived in 1846 from the Mexican War and took command of a Texas Rangers company at what became known as Johnson Station.